[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my knowledge) a spoiler-free review.]
Laure Eve’s The Graces is a thrilling, gut-wrenching story of magic, friendship, lies, love, and discovering who and what you really are. The real world becomes eerie and unbalanced. Dangerous but deep obsession rules over everyone, even the reader, and love becomes a curse and a threat.
I originally requested this book on NetGalley because I loved the cover and I’d been hearing it mentioned all over. I’d read the synopsis, but I wasn’t prepared for the immersive and spine-chilling thriller I’d signed up for. I couldn’t put it down.
The Graces is told from the first-person point of view of an initially nameless female narrator. She has recently moved with her mother to a new town in an attempt to move on from her father’s seeming desertion. She’s always been, it seems, a quiet but observant girl, noticing and carefully cataloging all the secrets, personalities, and problems of those around her. She misses her father, barely gets on with her mother, and tries to keep her nose hidden in a book as much as possible.
Then she moves to this new town, a town that is at once in love and pervertedly fascinated by a local family, the Graces. The Graces are incredible, rich, popular, and everything everyone else wants to be. The three Grace siblings — the ethereal twins Thalia and Fenrin and the rebellious youngest Summer — go to the narrator’s school and run it like a well-oiled, fawning machine. Everyone loves them at the same time that everyone fears and envies them.
The narrator decides, immediately, she must become their friend. Because she wants to be wanted. Because Fenrin is dreamy, “mythical, like he was more creature than boy.” Because everyone says the Graces are magic, a family of powerful, dangerous witches.
Eve’s The Graces is separated structurally into two parts. The first part is the story of the narrator’s struggle to enter and hold onto the world of the Grace family. She obsesses over how best to impress her crush, ethereal and beautiful Fenrin, and catches the attention of his younger sister Summer. The narrator transforms the development of friendship and camaraderie into an economic exchange, always concerned with whether she has “earned” or “won” her place with the Grace siblings. She is obsessed with when or if she is being “tested” or “proving” herself. Through the narrator’s almost claustrophobic narrative voice, Eve does an incredible job to portray ever-present and persistent social anxiety: She is always second-guessing what she does and says, always planning ahead, always nervous about what others think about and see in her. Close friendship becomes a minefield of ideal choices, well-timed words, and tests of loyalty.
The first part of the book, then, seems to be a regular piece of teen fiction about boys, girls, and friendship a la Perks of Being a Wallflower with promises of magic mixed in. As part two begins, however, we enter into an intense, mind-boggling thriller of lies, betrayal, and threats of murder. Throughout The Graces, Eve juggles three different mysterious plot lines that the narrator will reference but never fully explain. The first is of her father’s unexplained disappearance only a few months prior; one night he was home, the next night he is gone without even packing clothes or a toothbrush. The second is her constant reference to a darker nature within herself that she is scared even to share with the Graces: “Inside, buried down deep where no one could see it, was the core of me, burning endlessly, coal black and coal bright.” It isn’t until the end that Thalia, Fenrin, and Summer fully discover for us what she means by this. And last, as the final part opens, the disappearance and possible death of the Graces’ family friend Wolf — something no one can explain, except maybe the main character. Though I never felt particularly connected to any of the characters (except maybe Wolf, oddly enough), it was the mysteries and secrets that kept me fully immersed — maybe bordering on obsessed, like the whole town is with the Graces — in Eve’s story.
The greatest strength of The Graces is its unreliable narrator. We know she’s telling us this story from some time after the actual events of the story. We know she knows the answers to all of our questions, the truth behind the lies and the secrets that keep the Grace household together. But she never tells us — she leaves it to others and extremely dire events to discover her own awful secrets as well. A prime example of her unreliability as our window into this story is the fact that we never learn her real name; she decides to change her name to “River Page” in the first several chapters and, because the Graces wholeheartedly accept this as her true name, she is able to recreate herself and discard who she used to be before our very eyes. The narrator withholds information from us, from the Graces, and, perhaps most importantly, from herself. This increases and accentuates the mystery and the thrill of the unknown throughout the story.
One aspect of this story that I greatly enjoyed was its crips and detailed descriptions of its settings. The overall setting of the new town to which Grace and her mother have moved is a little eerie and almost primal — it is “caught between the sea and acres of wilds.” It is a nature-predominated space in which the heath and even the water at the beach threaten to “swallow” you in seconds. The dark, heady space is characterized by “[d]unes, woods, and moors peppered with standing stones [that] crawled across the landscape, surrounding the place like a barrier.” Here, there seems to be no escape from the power and dominance of nature. Even the Grace family home is a character unto itself, “like it was alive,” recognizing and accepting Wolf and warning and rejecting River. Eve’s attention to detail — in characters and in settings — keeps the story fascinating and eerie and always mysterious.
All in all, The Graces is a darkly intense maze of lies, betrayal, and obsession and the dangerous path to understanding the truth of magic and one’s true self. It asks us where the paper-thin border lies between what we will do for ourselves, what we will do for others, and what we will do for love, power, magic. How far would you go?
Laure Eve’s The Graces will be released September 6, 2016 by Faber & Faber.